Two Tales of Composting and Recycling in Zambia

Russell Ford, a former public school art teacher in Washington, recently spent a month in Zambia, Africa teaching at the WayiWayi Studio and Gallery artist-in-residence program. WayiWayi is a visionary art school and gallery run by Lawrence and Agnes Yombwe. Here is one of the many short stories about Russell’s experience with composting and recycling in Zambia in the town of Livingston, Africa. 

The Art of Recycling in Zambia

One of the members of the team of Zambians who worked with me to build a ceramic kiln in Livingstone is sculptor Almakyo Banda. He was part of a team of artists responsible for the creation of a large public artwork near the center of town unique in its purpose and concept.

Art Display demonstrates a creative approach to recycling in Zambia

Elephant Sculpture Full of Plastic Bottles

Recycling in Zambia

Butt Full of Plastic Bottles

This interactive artwork is designed to inspire and invite the public to consider joining efforts for recycling in Zambia and helping to rid the city of unwanted plastic bottles.

With almost no individual redeemable value, Livingston is awash with plastic containers and bottles like most other cities in Zambia. Almakyo had the vision to create installation artwork that invited participation in the town’s much needed plastic cleanup. He welded a large elephant to be an open structure that could become a drop-off center for collecting plastic bottles. This displayed the growing pile of plastic while promoting active participation.

I was inspired by this approach for using public artwork for raising awareness about the need to solve an environmental problem through creative recycling in Zambia.

Starting a Compost System at WayiWayi

Being a lifelong disciple of Robert Rodale and the organic gardening movement, I take a my personal commitment to recycling and composting seriously. I can hardly remember a time when recycling kitchen scraps into compost was not part of my daily routine. I have witnessed numerous gardens transformed from weak, depleted soil to rich and productive loam by adding organic material to the mix. At home, I invite my neighbors to contribute by dumping their grass clippings and fallen leaves to my compost pile instead of giving them to the garbage collectors.

Flying into Livingstone, I was able to observe that this area of dry savannah struggles to support vegetation everywhere outside of the immediate river course.  The  soil condition of the compound at WayiWayi Studios is a mixture of clay and sand with very little organic material, so I was delighted when my suggestion was taken seriously that the bucketful of daily kitchen scraps the studio produces would be of great benefit to the trees and bushes.

Poor Soil in Livingstone

Soil is too poor to support vegetation outside of watered areas in Livingstone

In my experience, this change in routine will have immediate effects that will start slowly and build over time. Change in depleted or unnourished soil when humus is added starts on the microscopic level. As living organisms responsible for the breakdown of plant materials begin to grow, they attract other organisms and introduce a cycle of life that is beneficial, even critical to the healthy life of the plant.

I poked around in the soil at WayiWayi looking for the familiar signs of beneficial critters and was not able to find even one earthworm. One of the workers at the studio, Oscar, worked at a local hotel that used a worm decomposition system to deal with kitchen waste. He offered to get worms going at WayiWayi when enough humus had accumulated to support them.

The increase of vegetative matter as mulch to retain water and the simple act of recycling kitchen waste will create a healthy environment for worms and lead to the kind of soil and lush vegetation that we imagine only existed in Eden.

(Originally posted on Russell’s blog, http://russinafrica.blogspot.com/)

Russell Ford

Author: Russell Ford

Russell Ford recently retired from teaching art in a public school in Washington, and is planning a trip to Zambia, Africa where he will teach for a month at the WayiWayi Studio and Gallery artist-in-residence program. WayiWayi is a visionary art school and gallery that is run by Lawrence and Agnes Yombwe.


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